Respect the Husband, Love the Wife: Methods of Ending Marital Strife

Because I am a solitary wife this month, with he of the dreadlocks away for awhile in Johannesburg, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s post to the vagaries of marriage – or rather, marriage advice.

A recent Huffpost article titled “It’s the Intimacy, Stupid: 6 Steps for Women to Stamp Out Divorce” cropped up in my Facebook feed last week. In it, marriage help empire-builder Laura Doyle has good tips like adequate self-care, relinquishing controlling tendencies, being vulnerable and practicing gratitude. Unfortunately, she also tills that bizarre ground of so-called “submissive wives” who advocate Bible-based obedience to their 21st-century husbands.

From an earlier post called “How To Stop Your Wife from Having Tantrums at Costco, and Other Christian Marriage Tips.”

“Lack of respect causes more divorces than cheating does because for men, respect is like oxygen. They need it more than sex,” Doyle announces.

This is right in line with “submissive” wives and their pastors who claim that women need love, but men need respect.

Here’s a novel idea. Quit looking at your spouse as another species. Some things I read about man/woman differences make me feel like I’m watching an over-produced Animal Planet special about monkeys of the world.

In my opinion, manuals telling us how to navigate the differences between men and woman have everything to do with what society trains us to think and do, and little to do with the messy work of being humans who share the same duvet.

I think many of my friends are happy  with the view that catering to, or, as my friend put it, “leverag[ing]” gender differences is key to happy marriages.

They posted comments on the Doyle article link like “chances are good that husbands will be better served by ‘I’m proud/impressed at how you dealt with…’ and wives will be better served by ‘you make my world go round.’” Another friend, the author of the worthwhile book Marriage Moats, added that studies have proven 80% of women value love over respect, while 80% of men value respect over love.

For my part, beyond the questionable wisdom of stereotyping people by gender, I wonder what use there could possibly be in separating the practice of love from the practice of respect in a marriage. And how do you quantify such emotional terms into gender-defining statistics? And how do you know that two individuals wouldn’t view the same act, and one call it a gesture of love, and other call it a sign of respect? And even if most men do value respect over love, and most women would do without an equal measure of respect if they could just get some love, does that mean this preference is innate to men and women, or is it a pressure of cultural expectation?

And, as Doyle suggests, can most husbands really shrug off infidelity by thinking “well, at least she’s respectful”?

To me, the dogma that says respect your man but love your woman is just another way to reinforce active roles for men and passive roles for women: men get acclaim for what they do, while women are valued for their lovey-dovey state of being.

Don’t respect your husband because men need respect. Respect him because your husband is a person, and people need respect. Of course the same goes for respecting your wife. Try listening carefully to her opinion or complimenting her work ethic, and see if she doesn’t appreciate it as much as a kiss.

Or deride her expertise and ignore her hard work, and then get her to believe it when you say you love her.

Maybe if my marriage matched the stereotypes, I’d enjoy waving man/woman distinctions like 16th-century peace treaties sealed by royal betrothals.

But between my husband and I, one of us loves shopping and babies and the unrestrained verbal airing of daily events. The other is an emotionally bottled workaholic who can sit for hours in silence and abhors the mall. Guess who is who?

Devotees of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus would probably guess wrong.

Whatever self-help books and seminar leaders would have you believe, there’s no doctrine, statistic or gender-gap road map that ensures marital bliss, and one marriage should never be used as the metric for another. That might be the kind of secular millennial relativism that makes older generations’ hair stand on end, but with a grand total of five years of married life, and zero New York Times Bestselling relationship books to my name, my advice on marriage is this:

Think about what makes you feel loved and respected as a human being. Then, every day, imagine your spouse as a human being, too.

 

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35 Comments

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  1. Great post, Alaina. I especially loved this sentence: “And how do you know that two individuals wouldn’t view the same act, and one call it a gesture of love, and other call it a sign of respect?” Black-and-white thinking is so easy… I appreciate your acknowledgment of what I think are the infinite subtleties of being human.

    “…and little to do with the messy work of being humans who share the same duvet.” We each have our own duvet. Maybe that’s why our marriage is perfect.

    • Separate duvets? Brilliant!! So true about black-and-white thinking. It’s actually one of my major demons, but I’m always trying to push back as I get better acquainted with life…

  2. I honestly think men and women may internalize love and respect differently. Man of interest or friend, I bend over backwards for those I love. Some may call that an act of respect.

    Furthermore, I never love someone I don’t respect…and I’m not sure anyone does.

    I think that people need to just go with their guts and communicate with their significant other to see what they need more of instead of relying on generic advice.

    • Good point about internalizing differently. The question of whether love can really exist without respect is a good one. There are so many different kinds of love, some healthier than others, that it’s hard to say. I think most parents continue to love their children for their whole lives, even if their kids act in really destructive, disrespectful ways. I know a lot of people whose views I can’t respect, but I look past it to love the person. But when it comes to a HAPPY, healthy marriage, I do think it’s impossible to have love without respect and vice versa. Also not productive to toil over which gender needs more love and which needs more respect.

      • I agree. How can I offend my wife and not offend myself. How can one demand respect and not give it in return. Respect and love, as my grandmother would say; “Are peas of the same pod.”

      • Yes – I think part of love is feeling your spouse’s joys and pains as if they’re your own. So if you demean your spouse, it’s like injuring yourself. Thanks for stopping by – hope you’ll visit again.

  3. You know, it strikes me that in a healthy, functional relationship the actual nitty-gritty of love and respect is made up of exactly the same actions. Women might look at it and call it love and men might look at it and call it respect, but it’s the same elephant.

    I’m not married, and one of the reasons I’ve been so whatever-whatever about rushing every e-dating site on the internet is because I worry that a man wouldn’t give me the respect I need in a relationship. I don’t want to be Mrs. Somebody whose primary job is fluffing the ego of a man who’s as flawed as any other man. I feel like that’s what those Christian marriage proponents are actually saying a wife should do/be: a perpetual Yes (wo)Man. I want to love a man for who he is – and be able to call him out for being a doofus on occasion – and have him do the same for me. Sometimes I need a hug (love) and sometimes I need to have my opinion asked and considered (respect). And I suspect the same is true of most men.

    Great post!

    • Thanks for reading and thanks as always for weighing in. I totally agree about the impossibility of defining love and respect in a way that is the same for both genders. If women are looking for love, that’s what they’ll interpret actions to be, and if men are looking for respect, that’s likely what they’ll perceive. And all along each partner has exactly the same goal of serving the others’ emotional needs. Why must self-help gurus come in and quantify it?

      There was another quotation from the Doyle article that I don’t think made it into my post – she defines respect for the husband, in part, as never criticizing him and never trying to teach him anything. This is also pretty chilling. Criticism can be toxic, or it can be constructive, and spouses should be able to handle the latter. And frankly, the idea that women should refrain from teaching their husbands anything as a show of respect is just plain loony!

  4. Love is respect and respect is love. If you don’t love someone how can you respect them in the closeness of marriage. The same would be said of respect. When I don’t listen to my wife when she makes a suggestion, play it off as coming from the minor of me– her body language tells me, I’ve shown her disrespect by rejecting her thoughts out-of-hand. Out of respect, I listen to her suggestions, mull them over, and find they deserve due consideration. The best things we have accomplished together is when we can blend our different thoughts into a mutual way. Yes, respect is vital to each– but love of each keep mutual respect in balance. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Yes – I think husbands and wives will always come out the better if they can blend their perspectives and each give credence to the other. Thanks for adding your two cents.

      • Case in point. Before going to the market on the motorbike my wife said to me; “Change your shirt.” Alicia is always concerned of how I look to others in public view. In the past I’ve rattled off something to the effect; “I’m not a child or your son.” Her motives are of good intention. Finally, knowing I want my way, and her respect, love, and good body lanuage when I respond, I replied to her; “I will look like a working man and I will blend in with the rest. I’m proud to look like a working man.” She laughed. I had just come out of our newly planted veggie garden and we are doing well on planning and attempting to make this a successful venture– it ain’t as easy as it looks sometimes. This is fun.

        It’s the little things that get to you sometimes, even if men are not from Mars, and women are not from Venus.

      • Do you mean that gardening isn’t as easy as it looks, or is that marriage? ( :

        Good story – thanks for sharing.

  5. I agree with you Alaina. I think looking at each other as human beings, perfectly imperfect is the challenge before us. So much of the input from media and society at large is to channel our picture of one or the other into a defined role and it just doesn’t seem doable or workable for me. I always wonder too if you can love without respect? not sure you can, Treating each other with kindness the way in which we wish to be treated seems to be a viable solution to getting along in this world, marriages included.

    • Yes, for all the endless hype about special tricks for building happy marriages, I think it boils down to exactly the same principles that govern our dealings with anyone: courtesy, kindness, respect, patience…I hate that saying, “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” WRONG! love means apologizing freely when you inevitably screw up. Why do we teach that the rules of courtesy you’d give to a stranger in the street don’t apply to your spouse?

  6. After 25 years of a marriage that gets better with each passing day, the secret is to treat each other as equals, totally mutual respect, no role expectations or demands, and to realize that most big deals, really aren’t.

    Great post

    • Congrats on your long and successful union. My parents and in-laws also passed their 25th several years ago and they’re a big inspiration to me.

      And yes – it’s so galling the way a lot of marriage advice is about pushing men and women into certain roles the writer deems appropriate by gender. Every marriage is different and I don’t think couples are served by generalizations about what they should or shouldn’t do and feel because they’re a man or a woman.

  7. William Righetti December 7, 2012 — 5:31 pm

    My only comment at this point, is that I got a huge kick out of reading; “But between my husband and I, one of us loves shopping and babies and the unrestrained verbal airing of daily events. The other is an emotionally bottled workaholic who can sit for hours in silence and abhors the mall. Guess who is who?” And I since I know you both from High School and College, I didn’t have to guess. I think I just appreciate that there’s an article here that addresses marriages that buck the stereotype, and reminds us that it is how we choose to THINK about and LOOK at our relationships, that defines their nature.

  8. Respect is a very important part of marriage – in terms of opinions, feelings, space, work, the list goes on. Worrying about treating each other as equals – no. Keeping score is a bad thing. It’s never 50:50 and if you expect it to be that way in any area of your marriage, then you’re probably not trying to do the best YOU CAN to make your partner feel loved, valued and respected.

    • I tend to look for 50/50 in a larger sense – not I do the dishes half the time and he does it the other half, but I do the dishes and he carries heavy things to the basement (talk about traditional gender roles). No one task can be allotted strictly half and half. But there should be an overall sense that both partners are pulling their weight – but no, you can’t quantify it in a graph.

      • Even if you look at it in a larger sense, you will run into trouble. It still seems like keeping track. You never carry anything to the basement and you never do the dishes… Sometimes you just have to put in 100% and not wonder when or whether you partner will pull his or her weight. That’s just how we make it work. Every couple works it out in their own way – hopefully.

  9. Great post.
    The older I get the more our cultural conventions seem useless, if not harmful, to me.
    I don’t think anybody can make you happy but for a moment. You can only make yourself happy, and for that you actually have to know yourself, have a purpose, a goal – many people don’t.

    • Thanks. We’ll probably never shrug off the baggage of our culture when it comes to gender roles, but at least we can make some progress.

      Very true about the folly of looking to someone else for your happiness. Thanks for weighing in.

  10. But…but, wait, are you saying that men and women really aren’t from Mars and Venus but are in fact the same species from the same planet?

    Because that just blew my whole entire theory of biology.

    Damn.

    Gender-specific relationship bullshit is big business, sadly. More sadly, a lot of people seem to buy into it when surely personal experience ought to be enough to realise that the boys vs girls attitude belongs in the playground.

    • But it makes life so easy to understand…! He’s doing this because he’s a man, she’s doing that because she’s a woman – see how simple that was? By thinking about my spouse like a different species, I have improved my marriage!

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the laugh.

  11. Dear Alaina,
    I agree with you, but not completely. I think it is necessary for a successful marriage to have a mutual love.
    The Apostle Paul said: “Husband do the love to wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

  12. Men and women both need love and respect. Everything is mutual. nothing can work one way.

  13. Love your analysis, love and respect, can there be the first without the latter? not to me. I just started following you and already wondering about the dreadlocks of your partner and the three fishes on your reader 🙂

    • Well poke around if you’re curious, and who knows what you’ll find. If there’s anything I can say about this blog’s content, it’s “eclectic.” Thanks for joining the Alaina Mabaso’s Blog bandwagon!

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